By Magnus Onyibe
To protect our lives and livelihood, let’s declare world war lll against Covid-19 pandemic.
The assertion above is underscored by the fact that until medical scientists find a vaccine, which we are told could take between 6-18 months, it must be clear to all that Covid-19 pandemic poses the threat that would be with us for some time so it is an existential and probably longtime deadly threat.
Before proceeding further, I would like to crave the indulgence of readers to pardon me for recommending the deployment of the same zeal applied in fighting the world wars l&ll to combating the Covid-19 pandemics which appears to be hyperbolic. But l’m compelled to do so as the fierce and deadly attack on humanity by Covid-19 pandemic, in my view is comparable to the catastrophic consequences of the two world wars.
In the light of the scenario described above, we all need to combat covid-19 the way our forbears wagged the world wars between 1914-18 and later 1939-45.
That’s because, by now, it should be clear to all who were initially skeptical that Covid-19 pandemic is a nihilistic threat to humanity much the same way that the two world wars were, which is why l’m making the clarion call that we should declare a Third World War against it.
As a matter of fact, l’m buoyed by the reality that a lot has been written about how the next world war would not be fought with arms and ammunitions or nuclear weapons, because the prediction is that it would most likely be a cyber war. That forecast in my view has come to pass in the form of an invisible virus that originated from Wuhan in December 2019 in the Kobe district of China. Whereas most of us might have been expecting the cyber warfare to be waged by a country such as Russia, North Korea or lran, and non state actors like terrorists of the ilk of Al Quaida, Taliban, lSIS, so far there has not been claim of ownership of coronavirus by such nefarious ambassadors. However, there is the suspicion that the virus might have escaped into the atmosphere from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, which is a notion that China has dismissed as conspiracy theory. Whatever the case may be, the reality is that a very formidable force that has come to wage war against humanity is present with us and it is called Covid-19 pandemic.
Fortuitously, this time, the world is not dealing with an army with armaments such as submarines, stealth bombers, atomic bomb, bazookas and bayonet which was the case during the two world wars; nevertheless we are in fact battling against a tiny virulent organism whose devastating effect may not be as physically violent, but its aftermath on humanity is nearly as grave and devastating as the effect of the atomic bomb, which ended world war ll. The forgoing assertion is underscored by the fact that at a point, owing to the lockdown, the ever boisterous landmarks across the world like Time-square, New York, Eiffel towers, Paris and Buckingham palace , London were like ghost towns.
And with socioeconomic activities in at least 90% of planet earth forced to shut down for almost three months, (March to May) l’m not exaggerating the impact of coronavirus and it underscores the fact that we can no longer afford to treat Covid-19 pandemic with kid gloves.
And that is why as it was done in 1914, which was the first time that the most powerful countries in the world would align their military into two opposing camps with the sole purpose of one party defeating the other for the restoration of world order, l’m calling on the world to come together once again to wage world war lll against Covid-19 pandemic.
It is significant that although the sad events; the two world wars, happened about a century ago, the lesson to be learnt is that when world peace was threatened, military forces were mobilized and galvanized to combat it. It needs no further elucidation to be convinced about the threat that the yet to be unraveled novel coronavirus poses to mankind today is an equivalent to the remote and immediate causes and consequences of the two world wars, hence l’m making a clarion call for world war lll against Covid-19 pandemic.
Before dwelling further on the war dynamics, permit me to illustrate the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic with armed robbers and their victims. We all agree that armed robbers usually apply intimidation in subduing their victims.
With guns pointed at their victim’s heads, the muggers usually pose the Hobbesian question to their traumatized prey: your money or your life? Naturally, he/she always chooses his/her life over the money by parting with it. The coronavirus pandemic which has disrupted our lives in several deeply significant ways has forcefully thrust on humankind both a health and an economic crisis or if you like, life and death options.
Life, which the armed robber in the analogy above demanded in his question: your money or your life, represents our health and the money part of the question represents the economy. What the logic above implies is that Covid-19 pandemic is asking us the typical armed robber’s question: our money or our lives? We have wisely offered our money by obeying the shelter in place rule which compelled us to be fully locked down at home for 28 days.
Having chosen to save our lives (health) over money ( economy ) by being on lockdown with zero economic activities , and another 28 days of partial lockdown ending June 1, thereafter, we must all resolve to fortify our locations to ensure that the robbers (coronavirus) dont gain access into our residences or offices again.
And we can do so by making sure our bodies and by extension our lives become as impenetrable as Fort Knox- the most heavily guarded bullion with USA gold reserves.
And we can do so by learning how to make sacrifices like soldiers so that we can successfully engage the killer virus, Covid-19 pandemic in a warfare. Fortunately , the weapons for defending our selves are not sophisticated military armaments like tanks, fighter jets or gunboats, but simply the act of wearing of masks, washing of our hands regularly and physically distancing ourselves by allowing a space of 6 feet between us and others. So our weapons of defense are so simple and require no special skills such that the war should not be too difficult to wage.
But disappointingly, prosecuting the war against Covid-19 pandemic has not been as simple as it should be. That’s because although it is the only way, (in the absence of a vaccine) that we can prevent the armed robber ( coronavirus) from further wrecking our lives, the aforementioned preventive or defensive strategy which appears simple, has not been fully embraced by all of us as we should. As such, it is mankind’s inability to deploy the afore listed weapons(wearing masks , washing hands with soap regularly and physically distancing from one another by at least 6 feet) against our current enemy no 1, Covid-19 pandemic that according to researchers at John Hopkins university, USA is largely responsible for the nearly 5.5 million people now infected globally by coronavirus that has left a number of human beings shy of 350,000 dead; just as nearly 8,000 people have been infected in Nigeria with our compatriots numbering nearly 230 in the number of the dead, with figures of those infected in the USA inching towards the 2 million people mark and about 100,000 people projected to have been killed by the disease before June 1st.
The sordid situation is further worsened by the fact that, instead of taking on the disease frontally and aggressively by deploying science and technology to vanquish the virus before it kills us without further delay through a world wide collaboration by scientists , we have a situation whereby the world supper powers-the USA and China that should be leading the war are quibbling about whose fault it is that Covid-19 pandemic is suddenly and surprisingly taking the world by storm . In a rather fortuitous manner, it is the cat fight between the leaders of the country where coronavirus originated and the country where it has killed the highest number of people that has revealed the unpreparedness of both leaders of the world for a catastrophe such as Covid-19 pandemic.
While Presidents Donald Trump of the USA, and Xi Jinping of China are busy trading blames, the virus which was obviously initially hidden from the rest of the world by the Chinese from whose soil it emanated and the USA that had also initially underestimated the capacity of the disease to quickly spread and wreak havoc in the manner that it has done in the USA and the rest of the world, the coronavirus is having a field day snuffing out lives in a manner that is making the world look like a defenceless killing field in the 21st century. The threat is now so real to the leadership in Nigeria that President Buhari who was initially seemingly reticent, over the weekend during Sallah celebrations revealed that he is now frightened by the rapid growth in the number of coronavirus infections in Nigeria which is on the brinks of hitting the 8,000 mark on or before June 1, if testing continues.
While science has so far failed to clearly unravel the nature and character of the killer bug, compelling scientists all over the world to be racing against time to rein in the ferocious disease, the rest of us none scientists must be galvanized into a formidable fighting machine to stem the tide of the spread of the highly contagious disease. If our forbears successfully combated the Spanish flu (which is in several ways similar to coronavirus) about a hundred years ago, l don’t see why we can’t do better now.
It may be recalled that the Spanish flu started afflicting people at the twilight of world war l in 1918 and it continued to decimate human population until a vaccine was discovered a couple of years later .
Before going further, allow me return to my proposal for a world war lll against Covid-19 by refreshing our minds about the World War l which was wagged to make the world a better place for mankind.
As we all might already know, it involved France, Britain and later the USA on one side and which later became the allied forces warring against nazi Germany led coalition comprising of Russia, Hungary and the Balkans as well as the Ottoman Empire which were known as central forces from 1914-1918.
While the origin and cause of the war are inconsequential in the context of this essay , the import of using the world war l as illustration should not be lost as it is aimed at averting our minds to the seriousness of the fact that about a 100 years ago, when an enemy just like the novel coronavirus tried to upend the world order by creating instability driven by one country’s leader’s inordinate ambition to dominate the world , there was a response from coalition of forces stretching from Europe to USA that engaged and defeated the foes.
Having highlighted how the world war lll against Covid-19 pandemic can be executed , it is appropriate to return our attention to Nigeria and focus on how we can harness local resources in order to win the war against Covid-19. About a decade and half ago, when as a counter measure to the insecurity of lives and properties arising from threats by bandits, which was prevalent across Nigeria, and the police force and other security agencies were largely unable to enforce law and order, vigilante groups sprang up across the country.
At that time, it was a sort of self help initiative for some communities to set up local vigilante groups such as Odua Peoples Club, OPC in the South West, Bakkassi Boys in the south East and Arewa youths council in the North.
Since the issue in the north at that point in time was the enforcement of Sharia rules which has just been introduced in the Muslim dominated northern part of Nigeria , further sub units were set up in the various states. Amongst them are lsbah in Kano and other brand names such as civilian JTF that were adopted in Sokoto, Katsina, Bauchi to combat Boko Haram insurgents, etc. These quasi-security operatives helped maintain law and order in areas where the conventional security forces were ineffective. But, hopefully we may not need coercion for compatriots to observe the Covid-19 protocol of wearing face mask, washing of hands with soap and social distancing measure of putting at least 6 meters between each other in public places.
Each time l see flash back photos of ladies gaily dressed up while adorning anti virus masks covering their noses, which actually compliment their elegance, as a measure to keep away the Spanish flu, (of which Covid-19 pandemic is the modern day equivalent) l can’t help but admire the courage of our forbears and the sacrifice that they made to overcome the murderous Spanish flu which ravaged humanity from 1918 to 1920.
Given the way our great grand dads and mums, uncles and aunties religiously adorned themselves with the masks and observed the hand hygiene protocol of regularly washing of hands and following social distancing rule by physically standing apart from others by at least 6 meters, l wonder why our generation seem to have lost the much cherished sense of discipline and responsibility which was on parade back in the days and the reason they were quite successful in combatting the Spanish flu pandemic before a vaccine was found.
It might surprise some people to learn that most fashionable styles of today evolved from unpalatable circumstances. Take the iconic trench coat for instance.Not many realize that it was popularly used by combat soldiers in the trenches during the two world wars. Today, it is a fashion statement in the Western world, particularly, in Europe.
In like manner, l don’t see why masks should not be embraced by all and sundry even as l’m mystified that some outlaws in the USA shot some security shop guards to death because they were asked to wear nose masks before being allowed into some shops.
Back home in Nigeria, it is unarguable that whatever is not monitored or enforced is not complied with. Since we have identified what to do and not do to stop the spread of coronavirus, instead of staying at home, we should progress into the adaptive defensive state against Covid-19. This simply means that we have to learn to live with the pandemic by going back to work being fully conscious of what to do to avoid catching the virus until a cure is found.
To ensure that the simple protocol of putting on masks when we are outside the confines of our homes , washing of hands regularly and keeping a safe distance of 6 meters between us and the next person, in addition to the security agencies that have the mandate to enforce the laws, the services of vigilante groups earlier mentioned as being existent across the broad spectrum of society, should be engaged to complement the efforts of the security forces who would otherwise be overwhelmed by the sheer number given that Nigeria’s ratio of 1 police man/woman to 400 citizens is grossly inadequate.
The idea of leveraging vigilante capacity is derived from the precept that instead of the OPC harassing non lagos indigenes by reminding them that lagos belongs to ethnic lagosians; Arewa youth council issuing ultimatum to the lgbos to vacate the northern part of the country and the defunct Bakkassi boys (that has perhaps morphed into IPOB ) and Niger delta militants pursuing separatists agenda in the south east or seeking resource control in the Niger delta , they should make themselves more useful by joining the security agencies in enforcing the anti Covid-19 pandemic protocols of wearing face masks, hand washing with soap regularly and physically distancing from others by at least 6 feet. If govt can enlist the help of the vigilante group as the enforcement unit of the war against coronavirus, the negative energy of the various local culture police ( in the absence of community police) would have been converted to positive energy for the security and stability of our society by helping save our lives and our economy which is on the brinks of collapse, if Govt does not rescind the stay at home or partial lockdown order .Furthermore , the various regional civil security outfits currently being established such as AMOTEKUN in the south west and the proposed set up of similar regional vigilante outfits in the south-east and south, (which is still work-in-progress) should in addition to their security functions be veritable sources of Human Resources for enforcing the anti Covid-19 pandemic protocol.
In any case, basically all of us should be disciplined enough to resolve to act as if we are truly engaged in a war which we must win by adhering strictly to the mandate of wearing masks, washing our hands regularly with soap and social distancing, with or without being policed, which are the measures that were developed as antidotes to the Spanish flu as far back as 1918 when no remedy for the epidemic had been found.
Losing the war could be equal to losing our lives as Covid-19 pandemic is merciless and stealthy. For instance, in its nascent stage, scientists thought it was only old people’s disease. But it has turned out to be all people’s disease irrespective of age bracket, as all age grades including children, youths and middle age people have been known to have been taken down by the dreadful disease.
As scientists have informed us, Covid-19 pandemic needs a host to live in and for it to be spread. By not observing the anti coronavirus protocol, we will be unwittingly serving as incubator and vessel for the spread of coronavirus, if we fail to make it our enemy no 1 by faithfully wearing our masks, washing our hands regularly and strictly social distancing via staying at least 6 feet apart from each other.
What we can all also do is to be resolute in making those that have already been infected by coronavirus the last and thus stop the virus in its track, if we all vow that we can never be the next host by being extra careful and ultra sensitive to our environment through wearing our masks in public places always , diligently washing our hands constantly and practicing social distancing as if the next person to us has the plague which indeed Covid-19 pandemic truly is.
As the saying goes, in every disaster, there is always opportunity if we look closely. In that regard, Govt can also support the work of the scientists working to unravel the Covid-19 pandemic by engaging and recruiting our teeming army of unemployed youths to assist them in contact tracing and isolating those who have already caught the virus. That way, Govt would be using one stone to kill two birds as it would be creating employment and at the same time fighting the coronavirus.
Now, I’m not unaware of the dictum, “it is easier said than done” so l will concede that it is going to be difficult to get Nigerians to buy into the idea of always wearing masks in public places , constantly washing their hands with soap and socially keeping the distance of about 6 feet apart from each other. But l’m banking on the fact that Nigerians are known for rallying around good causes if they believe in them.
That’s why I’m of the conviction that if Govt should deploy the necessary resources for mobilizing the masses as it usually does when it wants their votes during political party elections, we can all do the needful and win this all important world war lll against Covid-19 pandemic.
*Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, and former cabinet member of Delta State Govt, sent this piece from Lagos.